by Joel Wendland
NAFTA has moved front-and-center in the race for the Democratic nomination, not because any one candidate moved it there, but because free trade policies have hollowed out Ohio's manufacturing industry. Workers have forced the issue back into the spotlight.
According to a brief report by the labor-backed Economic Policy Institute, Ohio has lost 200,000 manufacturing jobs since 2000.
EPI admits that since NAFTA was implemented about 15 years ago, the automotive trade, a sector crucial to the economies of states like Ohio and Michigan, between the US and Mexico has grown. But "the effects on Ohio and other industrial states have been overwhelmingly negative."
In auto parts, for instance, the U.S. had a $2.4 billion surplus with Mexico in 1993; by last year the deficit was $12 billion. The auto deficit in total, reports EPI, stood at about $31 billion 2007.
EPI doesn't really get into finger-pointing, which is fine. But a little more analysis would be helpful.
NAFTA eliminated trade barriers between Mexico and the US. This fact made it profitable for GM, for example, to close factories in Ohio and Michigan and other places and move production to Mexico.
In the process good union jobs with good benefits were killed here – with attendant ripple effects like a weakened tax base for stable communities and public services, growing unemployment problems, internal migration etc. – in favor of low-pay and weak labor rights in Mexico.
Only the labor movement and the UAW have stood in the way of a complete breakdown of unionized auto production in the US.
While right-wing xenophobes are quick to blame Mexico and Mexicans, the real culprits in this affair are the corporations and the profit system that puts profits before our communities and our needs. Additionally, politicians who side with corporate interests and fail working families are also culpable.
The NAFTA debate in Ohio is crucial because both Democrats (Clinton a little more recently than Obama) are promising to renegotiate NAFTA in order to stem the flow of jobs out of the economy.
By contrast, John McCain traveled to Ohio and told voters there that they should just get used to it and kiss good paying jobs good bye.
No more stark difference ever existed.